Surface Pro review: an expensive yet compromised tablet
BY ROBERT EVATT World Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
The final piece of the Windows 8 puzzle arrives this Saturday with the official launch of the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet.
Unlike the Surface RT, which launched last year alongside Windows 8, the Surface Pro runs the full version of Windows 8, along with the ability to run older Windows programs. This is Microsoft’s true showcase tablet.
I was able to use a Surface Pro early at Microsoft’s temporary store in Woodland Hills Mall -- yes, it’s still open, and employees were coy when asked how long it would stay -- though my time with it was brief. Still, I was able to come away with a number of quick impressions.
On the outside, the Surface Pro looks very much like the RT, with a 10.6-inch screen size and an angular back that reminds me of a large digital photo frame. The back is a little thicker than the RT, and at two full pounds the Pro is half a pound heavier. Since most modern tablets are between a pound and a pound and a half the Pro feels like a load of bricks by comparison and could wear on your wrists if you hold it up for long periods.
Thankfully the same handy kickstand from the RT is still there, along with the ability to use the Touch Cover and Type Cover keyboards. These magnetic keyboards automatically snap where they need to go via magnets, and are reversible so you can still hold the Surface Pro without having a back full of keys.
The Surface Pro’s Start screen is exactly the same as the Start screens for Surface RT and Windows 8 for other devices. It was my first time using the Start screen on a touch-enabled device, and it works much better than with a mouse.
After only a few minutes of learning the gestures, such as swiping right to pull up options or pulling up to be able to move around the tiles, I got the hang of it. The thick bezel around the screen is perfect for winding up your sweeping gestures.
The Start screen includes options for several different types of virtual keyboards, which worked fine for me. There’s a stylus included if you’d prefer working with that, and it will even allow you to rest your palm on the screen for more comfortable writing. As I suspected, the Start screen is a much better experience on a tablet than it is a desktop or laptop.
The Desktop mode, which is where you’ll go to access the deeper, PC-like capabilities and older Windows programs, is a different story. It’s exactly the same as the previous versions of Windows, and trying to mash that tiny red X with your finger is a true pain. The stylus works better, but you’ll pretty much need one of the keyboard covers to get the most out of Desktop.
A quick note about Office 2013, which I tried on Surface Pro -- it’s now touch-enabled, but again, most of the icons are so tiny you’ll need the stylus. It also translates your scribbles into text, though like the similar system in the Start screen, you only get to do so in a small box only big enough for a couple of short sentences.
I should also mention that Office 2013 isn’t included, even though RT comes loaded up with its own version. And that keyboard cover you’ll need to get the most out of Desktop? That’s sold separately too, at $119 and $129.
You might need to invest in additional storage too, as the full version of Windows 8 eats up over 40GB, leaving you just over 23GB for your own use if you get the 64GB version. A portable battery pack may also help, since the Microsoft employees mentioned the Surface Pro has worse battery life than the Surface RT.
Which all wouldn’t be so bad if the Surface Pro were cheap, but at $899 for the 64GB version and $999 for the 128GB version. The only other tablet in that price range is the cellular-enabled, 128GB iPad at $929.
I can’t for the life of me figure out who the Surface Pro is for. If you want a basic Windows tablet, the Surface RT works fine -- and in the case of available memory and battery life, better -- at $499. If you want to use older Windows functions, you can get plenty of decent laptops at $499, and increasing number of models are coming with detachable keyboards for tablet-style functionality.
The Surface Pro isn’t a complete mess, but unless you’re well-off enough to drop over $1,000 on an impulse buy without a second thought, steer clear.
In this photograph taken by AP Images for Microsoft, Steven Sinofsky, President, Windows and Windows Live Division; Mike Angiulo, Corporate Vice President Windows Planning, Hardwire and PC Ecosystem; and Panos Panay, General Manager Microsoft Surface; reveal Surface, a new family of PCs, for Windows last June in Los Angeles. RENE MACURA/AP Images for Microsoft